The last person jailed for being gay in Romania walked free in 1998.
The country decriminalized homosexuality three years after that, in 2001, while reforming its laws to qualify for membership in the European Union.
The 20th anniversary of the abolishment of Article 200, which authorized prison sentences of up to five years for same-sex relations, was one cause for celebration during the gay pride parade and festival held in Romania’s capital this month. People danced, waved rainbow flags and watched performances at Bucharest Pride 2021, an event that would have been unimaginable a generation earlier.
Yet many members of Romania’s LGBT community remain frustrated by the Central European nation’s failure to go further and pass laws that would legalize same-sex unions or marriages. There are also fears of a conservative backlash to the gains achieved so far.
Some Romanians, influenced by the Orthodox church, reject the growing social acceptance of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, especially among young people.
“We live in a society that is ever more polarized, in which the opportunities for real dialogue, for education or learning are very hard to create,” said Accept Association Executive Director Teodora Ion-Rotaru, whose LGBT rights group organizes Bucharest’s annual pride festival. “This horrible cultural war which dominates Western societies is becoming very visible and real here as well.”
Tension accompanied the planning of this year’s festival, Ion-Rotaru said. The local government originally denied the organizers their usual venue, one of the oldest boulevards in the Romanian capital, Calea Victoriei. Officials cited difficulties in protecting an area closed to car traffic on weekends.
They reversed the decision following protests and an appeal by the British Ambassador to Romania, Andrew Noble, who joined a demonstration outside Bucharest City Hall.
Before the pride march, about 100 people held a counter-demonstration while holding religious icons and banners expressing their opposition to civil partnerships demonstrated-- and to the British ambassador. The participants included supporters of New Right, a political party whose slogan is “Orthodoxy and Nationalism.”
Romanian authorities have limited attendance at cultural and sporting events due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the pride festival, like protests, capped at 500 people. Some festival supporters argued the limit was unfair since religious gatherings do not have such restrictions; a recent pilgrimage drew tens of thousands.
LGBT rights have come under attack recently elsewhere in Central Europe. A new law that took effect in Hungary this summer banned the depiction of homosexuality in films, books and other content intended for audiences under 18. Dozens of communities in Poland have passed largely symbolic anti-LGBT resolutions amid a conservative backlash that began more than two years ago.
In Romania, lawmakers from two parties, including a junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, plan to introduce legislation next month that would ban so-called “gay propaganda” in schools.
While there is growing support for LGBT rights among young Romanians, too many Romanians do not know anyone who openly identifies as gay, Ion-Rotaru said.
“This shows that we are still the prisoners of invisibility,” she said, “and that our fight must be about stating our identity, acknowledging it, and about being known.”